“Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is – what is good and pleasing and mature.”
 Romans 12:2 (Common English Bible)
            Stand Up To Cancer is a division of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a non-profit committed to mobilizing people and financial resources toward new treatments for those battling cancer in the U.S. and Canada. Their current marketing campaign, Whatever It Takes, invites people to join a growing movement of those willing to “swing for the fences” in seeking new advancements in cancer research that can have a life-changing impact. Implicit in the campaign are two classes of people: one small and one large – those who struggle together to challenge the ravages of cancer and those who stand on the sidelines and watch. It is the difference between those who are organized around a great cause and those who drift through life with no driving passion to participate in anything great.
            The apostle Paul makes the same distinction – a division of people in two classes – here in his letter to the church in Rome. The first class of people is one whose mind and opinions and values are shaped by the world. Uniformity to popular culture extends to dress and manners, speech and thought. They conform to the world and its ways without discerning if participating with everyone else is best for them or even wise. They drift through life as leaves drift down a river. Where life takes them, they go without objection, accommodating to the environment and yielding to social pressures.
            The second class is not shaped by the larger culture; they actively seek to transform the culture through a radical commitment to something larger, something nobler than simply going along. They say No when everyone else is saying Yes. They put character into their environment rather than take their character from the environment. Norms and conventions are challenged and a clarion call is made to strive for something larger than one’s individual life. In these few words of Paul’s letter to the Roman Church, Paul asks that the church pay attention to God and organize it’s life around God’s will.

            To which class do we belong? Is society molding us more than we are molding society? Are we conforming to what the world wants us to become or are we being transformed by paying attention to God and seeking God’s desires for our lives? Paul is seeking nonconformists, people whose lives are organized around a steady conviction that we were created for something more than just going along with the world. Paul invites us to open ourselves to the shaping influence of God and to experience strength in our inner life by God’s active work in our bodies. This is the invitation of Paul when he writes, “be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is – what is good and pleasing and mature.”


Life\’s Disappointments

The following is from Doug Hood\’s Heart & Soul, Vol. 2

“I have shown it to you with your own eyes; however, you will not cross over into it.”
Deuteronomy 34:4 (Common English Bible)
     This is a remarkable picture of Moses! He is at the point of death, on a mountaintop, gazing out over the Promised Land, a land for which he led God’s people to possess, pondering God’s Word to him that he himself will never enter the land. A universal truth of life is captured in this tragic moment, a truth that neither the great or small among us escapes; life brings equal capacity to experience joy as well as disappointment. This singular moment of Moses’ life lays hold of our imagination as no other moment in his life does. Life sometimes falls short of what is desired and for which we intended our labors to provide.
     That moment is on the horizon for every one of us – that moment when we realize that our grandest dreams and the greatest desires of our heart may not be realized. Moses wanted to cross over into God’s Promised Land and the apostle Paul urgently wanted to take the gospel to Bithynia. Both were denied. Both their circumstances and own earnest efforts gave Moses and Paul every reason to believe their central purpose and passion in life would be achieved. But what would lie beyond their vision was the disheartening experience of watching their dreams tumble to the ground. “I have shown it to you with your own eyes; however, you will not cross over into it.”
     What are we to make of this? We do not have access to Moses’ inner thoughts as he sat upon that mountain, looking out over the Promised Land. Paul speaks little of his failed ambition to preach in Bithynia. What we do know is that both Moses and Paul had a choice to make. They could look back bitterly, questioning where it all went wrong, angrily regretting that they ever had dreams at all, and this decision producing tears of disappointment. Or, they can hold their heads up in their disappointment and acknowledge that God has blessed their labor, that in their struggle, God’s purposes were advanced and that by God’s power, they did step closer to eternal things.

     Perhaps there is no greater struggle than recognizing again and again that God’s view of success and failure is different from our own. And, it is God’s view, which really matters. Moses and Paul fixed their gaze upon a destination. Yet, what really matters to God is whether at the end of the pilgrimage those God calls have learned patience and humility, and have entered into an utter dependence upon God. Ultimately, the destination is quite a secondary thing. It is the quality of the pilgrimage that matters. We don’t have access to the private thoughts of Moses and Paul as they experienced disappointment. But they were great men of God and great people live their lives for God. I suspect that, at the end of their life, Moses and Paul lifted their gaze beyond failed aspirations and saw God’s smile at a life well lived.

Sharing Our Faith Story

Doug Hood is on vacation this week.  
The following is a repeat of a Meditation from his book Heart & Soul: Volume 2.

\”Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”
Psalm 107:2 (New Revised Standard Version)
     Our daily conversations do more than provide a running narrative of our lives; such conversations shape our experiences, practices and life with one another. As we speak, our thoughts and understandings are more deeply formed and clarified. Through speech, we do so much more than transmit information to another. We process that information in a manner that deepens our convictions. When that conversation turns to matters of faith, my friend Thomas Long, brilliantly observes, “When we talk about our faith, we are not merely expressing our beliefs; we are coming more fully and clearly to believe. In short, we are always talking ourselves into being Christian.”1
     It is uncertain that this is the conviction behind these words from Psalms. What is certain is that God’s people are directed to speak of their faith; are commanded to share their faith story with others. It is the duty of every person of faith. The man or woman who has been “redeemed” by the Lord must become a busy person. They are to be messengers of God’s love and transformative power. It is this kind of witness that captures the interest of ordinary people and wins their verdict. Clergy are expected to speak of holy things. But when ordinary people speak of God the testimony takes hold with arresting strength and considerable surprise.
     But, argues Tom Long, such conversation serves a sacred interest. Speaking with another person about our faith confirms experience; it sustains it and enriches it. Any experience which is denied expression speedily fades away, such as a second language that is never used. The loss may be imperceptible at first but, over time, more and more is lost until little remains. Yet, when voice is given to matters of faith, faith quickens and is given strength. A powerful dynamic is released: as we take hold of our faith, our faith takes hold of us. Doubts melt away like mist when we go public with our testimony of what God has done for us.
     The Bible is filled with miracle stories. They are the stories that shape the contours of our faith and reveal God to us; stories that bear witness to God’s power. But they are not the stories that are the most vital for living a transformed and transfigured life. The miracle that is most vital, that is most urgent today, is not the miracle that is read about but the one that walks about in every believer who gives confession of their belief. The Lord says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” That is the Lord’s command. The world is waiting for our obedience.

1Thomas G. Long, Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 7.

Hesitant Believers

“At that the boy’s father cried out, ‘I have faith; help my lack of faith!’”
Mark 9:24 (Common English Bible)
            The boy’s father cried out, “I have faith; help my lack of faith!” His cry is our cry. We live in an anxious time. Natural disasters, terrorist activity, and anger unleashed in the midst of shifting cultural values have brought uncertainty and fear. We may profess faith in God but that faith is hesitant, uncertain, and unsatisfactory. The forces of evil, destruction, and pain can do that; diminish a steady and certain faith in the presence and activity of a loving God. Faith may remain but it isn’t the robust faith we desire. Mixed with our faith is a good measure of doubt: “help my lack of faith!”
            This father’s son is possessed with a destructive spirit. Since an early age, this spirit has thrown the boy into a fire and into bodies of water with one intention: to kill him. The Bible doesn’t tell us how many years this has been going on but the father has now exhausted all hope for his son. Hope extinguished is reflected in the father’s question to Jesus: “If you can do anything.” It is a frail request. It is what anyone who has nearly given-up would ask. In modern parlance, it is a resignation to, “What can it hurt to ask Jesus to help.” The father has moved way past desperation.
            It is then that the arch of the story shifts. Jesus confidently answers, “All things are possible for the one who has faith.” The father finds that he stands before a faith so glorious and strong, a faith that has sufficient resources to meet any need, that his prayer grows larger. Certainly, the father’s desire for his son’s wholeness remains. But suddenly present is something more. The father seeks to possess the faith he sees in Jesus, “help my lack of faith!” How many of us are represented by that father’s plea?
            Each of us has felt the desire to find within our faith the resources to counterbalance the tumult of the world. These are desperate days we are living through. And as one tragedy follows another, we grow weary. Jesus does heal the father’s son. And when the disciples ask how, Jesus simply answers, “Throwing this kind of spirit out requires prayer.” Apparently, Jesus speaks of something more than perfunctory prayers offered before a meeting, a meal, or bedtime. If we wish to be glorious believers who call upon uncommon powers, we will fulfill the conditions of a more thoughtful, robust life of communion with God. This is a deeper prayer life than many of us have ever known.